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Life Cycle Assessment

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a systematic method for analyzing product environmental impact. LCAs are powerful tools for improving the processes by which something comes to market. The complexity of electronics makes them good candidates to address such areas of concern during production. LCAs can vary widely in format and implementation, and no two are quite the same.

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Our team can transform your production processes. We use your supply, fabrication, transportation, and disposal data to create a profile of your product. Then, we work with international databases to assess the weight of product environmental impacts for every step of production. Finally, we use industry-leading software to construct manageable and attainable goals for improving your costs and flows.

What is Life Cycle Assessment?

Life cycle assessments combine qualitative and quantitative factors to describe the impacts of a product, service, or process. They have eclipsed other environmental impact assessments, which typically use qualitative analysis and do not traditionally assign values or weights to flow factors.

An LCA is a collection of methods and guidelines for assessing the environmental impacts made by your product system. Each study defines a goal and scope of assessment so that we know what to collect and what to ignore. Using this perspective, we can build an inventory of data using appropriate methods. This procedure helps us to understand which parts of the system have the most potential for improvement.

Such a tool is critical for exercising both qualitative and quantitative product analysis. This extra flexibility allows us to use LCAs in different ways. Studies can be very narrow and focused on a single product or procedure. Otherwise, a life cycle assessment can be so broad that it encompasses the entire production process. The goal and scope of the study depend entirely on your needs.

Life Cycle Assessment of Electronics

A robust analysis will have a well-defined scope and purpose. Experts construct a detailed product system model by considering the channels through which a finished product must travel. Information is then collected to classify the materials, energies, and wastes of the processes associated with this product. Modern technology allows us to build datasets by consulting databases across many different sectors worldwide.

Principles of Life Cycle Assessments

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is an environmental management tool that organizations of all sizes can use. LCAs often assess resource use and environmental impacts of product systems. LCAs can interpret or optimize the products and methods in a manufacturing chain. The utility of LCAs is internationally recognized, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has codified their standards. Enviropass uses product life cycle assessment to model and track inputs, tweak processes, and study waste and environmental emissions in product systems.


A good life cycle assessment will begin by clearly defining the purpose of the analysis. LCAs can be time-consuming and resource intensive, especially for complicated products. Well-articulated goals ensure that any subsequent research does not get overwhelmed by details. On the other hand a sharp, focused plan of action helps strengthen the credibility of any results obtained.

LCA Lyfe Cycle Assessment

Furthermore, analysts will set boundaries on which life cycle phases get considered. For example, exhaustive LCAs will consider each step of production across all life phases. Such a framework is known as a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment. Your LCA may need to consider only a small subset of processes or perhaps just a specific timeframe.

The principles and execution of life cycle assessments have been standardized under ISO 14040 and ISO 14044, though compliance is not mandatory.

ISO Standards on Life Cycle Assessments

ISO has published several documents containing LCA definitions and recommendations. The standards consist mainly of two essential references: ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. The former describes the principles and framework of the LCA. On the other hand, the latter contains details and guidelines for conducting each study phase. Together with other smaller documents, the ISO 14040 family represents a comprehensive approach to LCA studies.

This set of standards has become the global benchmark for life cycle assessments. This fact is noteworthy: no two studies will be the same, and this amount of variability can be daunting. Fortunately, the ISO 14040 system provides a clear and comprehensive approach to LCAs. The framework is designed for use in many situations across different industries. The result is an opportunity to apply the system to a number of considerations or problems.

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Life Cycle Assessments: Scope and Length

Of course, creating a piece of modern consumer electronics can involve countless processes. Consider a simple wristwatch: the watchmaker must first buy raw materials extracted from around the globe. These inputs must then be processed, transported, and reprocessed several times.

Eventually, the customer may throw the watch away, and it will join the millions of tons of e-waste landfilled annually. In this case, the LCA may target any quantifiable improvements per wristwatch. This type of focus quantifies the wristwatch as the functional unit of the LCA. This term refers to the smallest indivisible unit considered in the study.

Transportation of Goods LCA

Life Cycle Stages

Modern analysts categorize a life cycle into broad phases or timeframes. While the phase boundaries can vary between auditors, each undoubtedly offers an opportunity for critique – and often, improvement.

Resources are raw materials that come from natural deposits around the globe. Extraction techniques include digging, blasting, pumping, etc. Sometimes, post-extraction processes like smelting or filtering get included here.

The Manufacturing phase considers the processes required to create the final product from raw materials. Intermediate processes also fall into this category, along with many waste by-products.

The Transportation phase (otherwise known as distribution) occurs when the product is ready to leave the factory or the office. Packing and shipping processes occur here according to their energy and resource demands. Other metrics considered at this stage include marketing impact and the carbon footprint of transporting goods.

End-of-life Product

Active Use refers to the time starting when a customer buys or begins using the product. Clearly, the bulk of this phase belongs to the new product owner while they enjoy their purchase. Maintenance and aftermarket repair services belong in this phase, regardless of who performs them.  

Finally, every physical good has an End-of-Life. Whether it gets recycled, scrapped, or thrown in a landfill, this phase considers the steps involved in transporting a product to its final resting place. Secondary services like elemental recovery or municipal drop-off sites are also detailed here.

Life Cycle Assessment Phases

To summarize, a life cycle assessment begins with a period dedicated to laying crucial groundwork. A well-bounded scope, together with a thoughtful and detailed plan of action, will define the structure and approach of the analysis. Once data collection begins, experts conducting an LCA usually follow three main steps.

The first step is the Inventory Analysis. Chiefly, it is an enumeration of all inputs used for creating a product. Depending on the LCA’s timeframe, we may consider any period from raw materials to end-of-life. Each phase gets assessed according to any processes that require energy or resources.

The second phase is the Impact Assessment. Completing the inventory will likely result in a list of processes associated with the product and relevant timeframe. This next step helps categorize the list and allows us to quantify any process outputs, including unwanted by-products.

Usually, categories are specific enough so that the analysis maintains direction and relevance. However, they must also be open-ended enough so that we can include every process. Therefore, performing the impact analysis is a particularly delicate exercise. Strong execution of this critical step requires foresight and creativity.

Finally, the Interpretation Phase lays out measurable, attainable goals for mitigating environmental impact. The LCA may uncover areas of production that require special attention; outdated exhaust treatment systems and transportation redundancies are some examples. Consequently, the improvement analysis should result in a straightforward plan for tackling these issues. Improvements should be quantifiable and expressed via the LCA’s functional unit.

Applications of LCAs

As mentioned, LCAs have broad utility and can address many different classes of projects. Life cycle assessments are particularly well-suited to product life cycles due to the model’s relative and iterative nature. This approach emphasizes the importance of perspective with respect to the study goals and expectations. Missing data, incomplete sources, or insufficient evidence are handled by revisiting earlier phases of the study and refining the structure and methods.

LCAs can also be flexible with respect to time. Different stages of the product’s life cycle become included or omitted as the circumstances demand. This option allows us to capture projects of widely varying scope. Examples can be small and simple (e.g., a single product stage) or intricate and detailed (e.g., an entire fabrication plan).

Life Cycle Assessement Make this World Better

Some popular applications of LCAs include:

  • Identifying opportunities for saving time, effort, or resources
  • Identifying opportunities for reducing or eliminating environmental emissions, scrap, or waste
  • Creating or expanding reuse, refurbishment, or recycling streams
  • Optimizing water, energy, or fuel use
  • Distribution and supply chain auditing

Indeed, there are few hard limits when using a life cycle assessment. Clearly, certain instances do exist where an LCA is not the most appropriate tool. Examples include economic or social questions with no connection to related environmental considerations. However, LCAs are always a potential option when the main issues have clear and tangible impacts on nature and human health. Their potential for modelling vastly different scenarios make them strong candidates for analyzing even very complex systems.

Why is LCA important?

LCAs have become popular tools for optimizing product ecodesign. Identifying the costs, inputs, and losses associated with a product provides deeper insight into the methods used for bringing it to market. However, collecting and organizing the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming.

Therefore, a well-designed LCA allows us to classify, analyze, and deconstruct the steps in a production process. Quality assessments using modern methods are easy to maintain. Experts construct them layer-by-layer to provide a range of perspectives according to their needs.

How do you conduct a Life Cycle Assessment?

Clearly, the more you know about your product, the better your model becomes. A product bill of materials (BOM) is a great starting point. Other valuable considerations include supply chain, environmental regulation, transportation, and warehousing information.

LCA databases include many variations on factors that can help fine-tune your analysis. For example, valuable metals (like iron) used in industry exist in many states. A company may buy high-quality ingots for casting its flagship product. During production, machining operations may generate waste filings or shavings.

In an LCA, the ingots and the waste would occupy separate categories. Though the two materials have the same chemical composition, they have different flows and costs associated with their processes. Therefore, they must occupy different roles within the analysis.

Environmental Audit
LCA of devices

What do I Need to Create an LCA?

If you feel you might need to assess a product or service that your company provides, start by gathering as much information as you can:

  • What sort of information does the BOM contain? Does each of your components have traceable supply chains?
  • Where do you source your materials or intermediate products? What steps are needed to get them to your door?
  • What are the different shipping channels you use to manage flows? Do you have the same depth of information for each channel?
  • Do you have a final product that requires packaging? Can you trace the sources of your package materials?
  • Do your packaging and production processes occur in the same plant? Is there extra shipping involved?
  • Does your product have an end-of-life plan, like recycling alliances or designated disposal sites? Which channels exist for your product to be repurposed, recycled, or recovered?
  • Do you wish to consider standards compliance under the ISO 14040 family?

Typically, this information feeds into a specialized LCA software suite. Such platforms are readily available, and LCA experts use them to create custom analyses for studying products and optimizing processes.

Product LCAs at Enviropass

While there are many types of life cycle assessments, product LCAs are a very popular subclass. In particular, they find use in industries known for complicated products and processes. Examples include aerospace, military, and digital consumer sectors. Ecodesign of electronics is a familiar and popular demonstration of LCA’s capabilities.

At Enviropass, we specialize in assessing many commercial and consumer products using the life cycle assessment framework. Our approach is similar to other environmental management strategies: identify the underlying issues and apply them to problem-solving. Let our team assist you with your LCA study using industry standard tools, techniques, and software.

Sustainability Digital Product Passport

If you’re ready to create your own product LCA, visit our LCA Tool and let our experts help you get started!

Are you having technical issues with the form, or do you have other concerns? Contact Enviropass today for a free consultation to discuss your needs and answer your questions.